The spring time fly calendar has begun once again: nymphing for rainbows and cutthroat in outlet/inlet streams on Vancouver Island. Rainbows spawn in the spring, while cutthroat spawn opportunistically, and are with the rainbows for a free meal. There are Dolly Varden, too, in some systems, that spawn and spend their winter in the river then mosey back out to saltwater in spring.
The rainbows spend the majority of their time in Island lakes but crowd together for spawning in the streams that service the lake, either above or below. If you want to fish alone for a high numbers of fish, get out your Backroad Mapbook and find the lakes that have such rivers and streams.
There are hundreds of lakes on Van Isle, and virtually all have streams in and out. There are also 123 watersheds on the Island, so you have lots to choose from. The closest by is the Cowichan River that flows out of the lake of the same name. The well-subscribed Elk River, west of Campbell River, is another. The rest you need to get out there and pay your dues to find. Just look at the map, make a plan and go.
Nymphing is a delightfully light tackle sport in the best weather of the year – sunny and warm. Get out your 4-weight, or at most, 6-weight, and your floating line. Pick up several of those poly leaders or dipped, black tips that Martingale to the loop on your fly line.
To the tippet, Improve Clinch knot a size 8- to 12- nymph. Nymphs are the larval stages of many insects; the most frequently encountered include Mayflies, Caddis flies and sedges. They spend their time eating algae off stones on the bottom of rivers. When they mistakenly let go, or come free from what holds them down, they tumble downstream until a fish nabs them.
Nymphing is all about using a fly that resembles a larval insect and letting it tumble freely downstream. Fortunately for inexperienced fly fishers, this is the best time to learn to fish because the fish are close, casts are short, and the tendency of the inexperienced to lift their rod tip in the air (rather than tip in the water, and the fly swung under tension) actually aids catching fish.
The key phrase in nymphing is: dead drift. You want the nymph to tumble freely with no tension from the rod; that would make the fly swing like the nymph is swimming, which they don’t do, and, hence, no self-respecting fish would bite, particularly in well-subscribed fisheries. An example on our eastern border, is the Elk River near Fernie. It receives anglers from around the world, and the westslope cutthroat are presented with fake offerings so many times a day they are choosy. Not to mention that if the trout gets pricked, caught and released, that fish won’t likely take a poorly presented fly very often.
The other key is standing beside the fish rather than above. That means you have to carefully move into position so the fish do not see you. You are finding them in the heads of pools, around structure, most often logs and on bends where deeper water is usually on the outside of the turn. Note that your rod tip can be as much as 15 feet in the air, so being stealthy is essential.
You want to be beside the fish because that is the easiest position to tumble a fly without tension. You cast the fly a little bit above where you stand, keep the rod tip high and follow the fly in its downstream drift, then, when under tension, lift the fly and repeat your cast. Most fish let you know of their interest by the line tightening, but some times it’s a whack. Because there are more fish to choose from in this kind of fishery, this aspect also helps the novice, by their receiving more bites and so it doesn’t matter if some are missed.
One more thing: nymphs are easy to tie, so pick up the items and tie. Remember that in busy fisheries the more like the natural nymphs the flies are, as in more artistry and etc. in the tie, is something that rewards the fisher. In less often fished and where there are greater numbers of anadromous fish, the less accurate the fly need be. Fish that re-enter freshwater are less choosy for a few weeks because they don’t know what the local food looks like, giving the coastal angler a better chance with a stimulator pattern than in solely freshwater with resident fish.
So, pick up the more complex ties at your fly shop, and learn to tie a simpler tie, if you are new to tying. Nymphs are usually tied, at least on the coast, to size 8- to 12-sized freshwater nymph hooks. Bead heads are usually put on the hook to give the fly some sink. Then wrap some embroidery black bushy thread from head to tail, and then tie in some wriggly rubber legs. Take a one-inch length of leg material, make a ‘V’ out of it and tie in the bend, right behind the bead head. Tie another ‘V’ before the bend and that’s it. You can add a third in the middle because most larvae have six legs.
Finally, in your fishing, turn over a rock or two to find nymphs on the bottom and see how closely they match your fly. Take a photo or two for fly tying later, then carefully return the rock to its position. When you scrutinize the images later, consider which of your flies is closest, and most importantly, remember the fly that had the most bites, rather than the fly that you landed most fish on, which is an important distinction. If you had ten bites and two lands in your day, it makes sense to know the fly that got the most bites because that was 80% of the fish you fooled, and is the fly you want to remember next time.